Why Chelsea, Man Utd, Arsenal can pick off stars from imploding Rubin Kazan
Q: What is happening at Rubin Kazan? With the January transfer window now open, could we see the potential departures of players like M'Vila, Rondon and Eremenko? Could they play in England?
With the Russian Premier League going into its winter break and the January transfer window about to open, former champions Rubin Kazan surprisingly sacked their title-winning manager, Kurban Berdyev. RT Sport presenter Kate Partridge assesses the impact of the latest revolution at one of Russia's Europa League clubs.
For over a decade, twice Russian champions Rubin Kazan have been an apparent rock of consistency in a top-flight sea of change. However, on December 20th, the most successful coach in the Tatar club's 55-year history, Kurban Berdyev, was sacked after twelve years in charge.
The 61-year-old was dismissed along with the general director and vice-president in a purge the club administration said was due to this season's mediocre domestic performances.
Rubin's results and league position have a curious symmetry. Five wins, nine draws and five defeats, and eleventh in the table on 24 points - 16 from the top and 16 from the bottom. On the plus side, their goal difference is the best outside the top four. On the down side, they are ten points adrift of the European places.
Although the January transfer window is now wide open, the Russian Premier League is well into its winter break, with most of its players in sunnier climes. The country has ground to a halt for the New Year national holiday, with the club saying they are yet to discuss nominations for a new manager - who has an impressive record to follow.
Former Turkmenistan coach Berdyev took charge of then second-tier Rubin in August 2001. The shy ascetic and devout Muslim immediately steered the side to the First Division title and promotion, and then a third-placed finish in the top flight in their debut year.
Rubin have since continued to thrive in the Premier League, going on to win back-to-back championships in 2008 and 2009, the latter ensuring Berdyev was named coach of the year.
In 2012, Rubin won the Russian Cup, along with their second Super Cup in three years. The Kazan team also reached the quarter-finals of the Europa League last season, and are due to play Spanish side Real Betis in this campaign's Round of 32 at the end of February.
Rubin's squad is more cosmopolitan than those of succeeding champions Zenit and CSKA, and includes 14 different nationalities. Though the goals have been shared around so far this season, the club's top scorer with six is Venezuela striker, Salomon Rondon.
At a time when pundits opine that over half the English Premier League teams, like Newcastle United, Arsenal and Chelsea, are crying out for a striker, the two-footed 24-year-old has a short but useful history of producing headline-grabbing goals - and a career tally of one in every three games.
Rondon joined Rubin from Spanish side Malaga for a reported 10m Euros in August 2012. He made his first appearance in the Europa League the following month at the San Siro in a group game against Inter Milan, where he thought he had scored the 84th-minute winner before the hosts snatched an injury-time 2-2 draw. In the return leg, he did even better - netting a brace in the last five minutes as Rubin won 3-0.
After knocking out holders Atletico Madrid in the Round of 32, Rondon then opened for Rubin in the 10th minute of extra-time in the second leg at home to la Liga outfit Levante. The hosts won 2-0 on the night (and on aggregate) before bowing out to eventual champions Chelsea in the last eight.
Amid that European run, Rondon also netted the first-half winner as Rubin beat reigning domestic champions Zenit 1-0. Then in April, he opened in Rubin's 2-0 home victory over league leaders and eventual champions CSKA. This season, he netted a hat-trick in his side's 3-0 win at promoted Ural. He has also bagged 12 goals in 34 appearances for Venezuela, and is currently valued at 11m Euros.
While some English clubs might consider taking a risk on Rondon, such a price tag might be too high for Everton, whose top scorer is loanee Romelu Lukaku, though the Toffees have been linked with Rubin's Yann M'Vila - as has Manchester United, Manchester City and Liverpool.
The much-fancied 23-year-old defensive midfielder raised a few eyebrows last January when he opted to leave French side Rennes and go to Kazan on a four-and-a-half-year deal for almost 11.6m Euros.
The industrious, physical and disciplined right-footer has been compared with Patrick Vieira, Claude Makelele and - for his ability to also work as a playmaker and box-to-box midfielder - Yaya Toure. However, despite making 22 senior appearances for France, in November 2012 he was banned from national team matches until June 2014 and will miss the World Cup after an unauthorised night out while on Under-21 duty.
While such a decision might be M'Vila's - and perhaps France's - loss, it could be to the benefit of any clubs targeting a player unhampered by concerns about potential injury and absences for pre-tournament friendlies. Yet matching a deal that currently sees the Frenchman earn a reported 4.5m Euros a year after tax, as well as a 20m-Euro buy-out clause, is unlikely this January.
This time last year, Celtic were allegedly eyeing Rubin's pivotal midfielder, Roman Eremenko. The 26-year-old Russian-born Finn was at Udinese before making a name for himself at Dynamo Kiev, where he won the Ukrainian Premier League in 2009 and the Super Cup twice, as well as playing in the Champions and Europa Leagues. His subsequent move to Rubin for around 13m Euros saw the playmaker become the fulcrum of Berdyev's team, and fundamental to their Russian Cup and Super Cup victories in 2012.
Creative, technically able with excellent close control, the versatile Eremenko plays in central midfield but can also operate on the wing and at right-back. He scored the 78th-minute winner as Rubin beat Dynamo Moscow 1-0 to lift the Russian Cup and, in August 2012, a 25-yard curling piledriver of a winner in Rubin's 2-1 comeback victory at then champions Zenit.
However, Eremenko is noted more for his plentiful assists than his occasional goals. He has also made 57 appearances for Finland, netting three times. Previous reports have linked him with Everton and Fiorentina.
With Rubin still managerless, the future of most of their players is undecided. However, with the club aiming to maintain its run of appearing in Europe for the past five seasons, they will need to finish fifth in Russia to guarantee it. Consequently, the chance of some of Kazan's "rubies" glittering in other European leagues post-January is looking unlikely with each passing day off.
With the possible exception of one - talismanic midfielder, star player and one of the league's best imports, Bibras Natkho.
The 30-cap Israel playmaker joined Rubin from Hapoel Tel Aviv for a bargain 650,000 Euros in March 2010 on a four-year deal, which expired this New Year's Eve. Following Berdyev's dismissal, the now 12m-Euro-rated Natkho said his chances of renewing his contract had gone "from slim to zero", despite his affection for the club with which he won the Cup and Super Cup.
A talented 25-year-old midfielder - and a free agent. That sounds like one jewel most of Europe would like to add to their armoury.